You might have heard about the ketogenic diet only recently; but, unlike so many other flavor-of-the-week, fad-driven diets, this nutritional theory taps into a process that the human body is programmed, primordially, to activate: ketosis.
Ketosis is the biological state in which glucose (the common denominator into which all carbs are broken down) is scarce; so, in its absence, the body breaks down fatty acids into ketones, chemical compounds that can fuel muscles and the brain. In short, during ketosis, the body burns fat for energy! When ketosis is maintained, many experience weight loss, in addition to mental clarity and higher, steadier energy levels.
The typical MAD (Modern American Diet) exhibits a significant glucose surplus, rather than a ketosis-inducing scarcity. The culprit? Carbohydrates. For the average adult over the age of 20, carbohydrates comprise 49.6% of overall calories consumed by women, and 47.4% of the total calories consumed by men, according to the CDC. Research suggests that this overabundance of carbs, and in turn high and/or fluctuating blood sugar, underlies diseases like diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s (lately dubbed “Type 3 Diabetes”), to name a few.
The ketogenic diet derails this blood sugar rollercoaster by minimizing carbs consumption. But fear not, the ketogenic diet is not one of restriction, but of substitution, calling for a meal plan that is notably high in fat (60-80%), with moderate protein (20-30%), and low carb intake (10%, or <50g per day).
Achieving this balance isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. Here are some tips for helping you go -- and stay -- keto:
Beware of hidden carbs and sugars. Pretty much any and every processed, packaged food contains added sugar. Read nutrition labels discerningly; nut butters contain more grams of carbs than you might ever suspect (and frequently contain those aforementioned added sugars, which aren’t helping matters); the same goes for your favorite protein powder. Even “vegetables” like beets, sweet potato, squash, carrots, corn could undermine your keto diet. Stick to leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, celery, cucumber, zucchini, and use discretion -- the starchier and sweeter, the carb-ier.
Not all fats are created equal. Choose high quality, organic fats like olive oil, coconut oil (bonus points for MCT oil, which contains an exceptionally high concentration of medium-chain triglycerides that go straight into the liver, and are easily converted into ketones), ghee, flaxseed. Nuts and seeds contain healthy fats as well, but mind the carbs -- they add up quickly -- so consume only occasionally (pro tip: macadamias have the more favorable profile). Finally, many fall into the trap of believing that keto is a fat “free-for-all,” and overdo it on cheese/dairy, which is often highly processed and can be an inflammation instigator in its own right.
Adjust your workouts. Some find HIIT (high-intensity interval training) challenging to sustain on a ketogenic diet, given many who train this way are accustomed to prepping for a HIIT class with a carb-laden snack for an immediate energy boost. If you fall into this camp, try out LISS workouts (low-intensity, steady-state) instead; research shows that LISS exercise might be more effective for fat burning, anyway.
Stick with it. Sugar withdrawal is no joke! Headaches, mood swings, fatigue - you name it, breaking the sugar addiction can induce it. But this too shall pass; and, on the other side lies a ketogenic happy place.